Here is another Myth, Misrepresentation and Misleading Attack on Social Security disability claimants: They say no one wants to get off disability.
According to a recent news article, the darling of the right’s Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) says Congress should be focused on getting more people back to work. “Here’s the crux of it: it’s a lot safer to stay on the sidelines. No surprise then that only one-half of one percent earn enough to get off the program.” The idea that government safety net programs create a “poverty trap” by cutting people off when they earn money has long been an obsession of Ryan’s.
Here are some facts that might help to demythologize the issue:
- Social Security disability is an insurance benefit of last resort for the severely impaired. If you get temporarily sick, you use your sick leave. You have your medical expenses covered by your health insurance (if you are lucky enough to have it). If you get injured on the job, workers compensation insurance pays you a weekly stipend and covers your medical expenses until you have healed and return to work. If you have private disability insurance (like Aflac), you can receive a short term disability payment for usually up to six months. Social Security disability doesn’t cover any of this, and only comes into play if and when these other insurances are used up.
Social Security disability insurance is for long term medical impairment that continues to be totally disabling after a year. Think about it. To qualify for this insurance benefit you have to:
- Have been out of work for at least a year, or have a terminal illness, and
- Have a medical impairment of such severity that you can’t work on any full time basis or even enough part time to earn $250 per week. That’s not even minimum wage for full time employment. So even if you are trying to work part time despite your medical impairments, there is a good chance you do not qualify for Social Security disability insurance.
- You generally will have been out of the workforce for at least a year before you are medically able to even attempt to reenter the workforce. There will be a significant gap in your resume. Otherwise you never qualified for the insurance payment in the first place.
- When you do attempt to go back to work, you will probably continue to have a medical impairment that affects your ability to work. If your illness or injury has been severe enough for you to qualify for this disability benefit in the first place, complete recovery is not usually what happens. Long-term disabled persons generally continue to decline health-wise, or at best improve to a point where they want to try to reenter the workforce in some lesser capacity.
- Employers will therefore need to plan to accommodate your medical disability before they even offer you a job. Hiring the handicapped is a laudable concept, but it is not really what employers do as a rule in the dog-eat-dog competitive economy.
- In a down economy, you will be competing with generally younger and healthier – and equally skilled – persons who also want that job. Employers get to choose which of you they would rather deal with in the workplace. Guess who they pick?
Getting back to work presents some brutal realities for formerly-disabled persons in the competitive marketplace.
If Congress truly wants to address the problem of helping persons with severe medical impairments re-enter the workforce, it would be healthy if it would dispense with the myth that disabled people don’t work because they don’t want to.
Or it can just continue to demonize the disabled.